The State and the Single-Child Policy

  • Elisabeth J. Croll
Part of the Studies on the Chinese Economy book series (STCE)


To refer to the single-child policy of China is to imply a well-structured programme of unambiguous meanings and mutually exclusive regulations. Its implementation also assumes a singular and authoritative political agent, the state, and by implication willing objects of policy, couples of child-bearing age, who will co-operate by abrogating their fertility decisions to designated others. What a study of the single-child policy and its implementation since its inception in 1979 suggests, however, is that the policy itself constitutes an unstable configuration of meanings constructed and reconstructed over time and space, generating variation and even confusion in the message that is officially formulated and the message that is received by couples or households. Both messages lack specificity and uniformity of sanction. The constituents of the official message are dependent on the formal role of the state and its local representatives and are also mediated by the fluid roles of informal others, be they either peer or volunteer. Moreover, the variety in fertility behaviour responsive to the official message is determined or influenced by the immediate household and family location of the reproductive couple, which have themselves been reconstituted in the same ten years. Indeed what gives the single-child family policy particular interest and significance are the simultaneous changes in representations of the state, coinciding with a decline in state power, and the reconstruction of the household and family as central economic, social and political institutions in post-reform China.1


Family Planning Family Planning Programme Fertility Decision Production Team Family Planning Policy 
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Copyright information

© Gordon White 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elisabeth J. Croll

There are no affiliations available

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